Being a companion to his commentary, Mark: The Gospel of Passion, Michael Card's Mark: The Beginning of the Gospel provides 10 new opportunities to imagine the fast-moving drama in the Gospel of Mark. Looking more like a professor than a musician on the back insert, Card takes the opportunity to combine his scholarly talents with those of a seasoned recording artist to highlight distinctives found in Mark.
This is the first gospel to be written, one that "uniquely portrays the emotional life of Jesus in simple, urgent language." This theme is the setting for the spirited a cappella opening, "The Beginning of the Gospel," sung by the Fisk University Singers.
Though a solo artist, the concept of community is increasingly important to Card. You see it in his frequent collaborations with other artists and in the way he invites others to participate in Bible study. Knowing this, I look forward to contributions from friends and colleagues on each new recording. Getting back to the opening song, though written by Card, it is arranged, performed and conducted by the aforementioned choir and their associates. It is a measure of Card's security that he can step back and give prominence to others on his own recording.
You find it once again on the closing track, "Is It All Over Now," where Christine Dente, formerly part of Out of the Grey (with her husband Scott), sings all of the lyrics written by Card and veteran producer Brown Bannister. This is an excellent choice since here the story of Christ's resurrection is told from the point of view of one of the women at Christ's tomb. Card's involvement with others demonstrates that music (and life) can be richer when we invite people to share their talents.
Scott Dente and Ken Lewis do all the producing, bringing a slightly fuller, richer sound than on Card's last outing, Luke: A World Turned Upside Down (2011). This duo has provided excellent musicianship and production to the most recent recordings by Twila Paris and Tanya Godsey. Fans of Out of the Grey might not miss that group as much when they recognize how well they support artists like Card.
You might not think that stringing together the words "A Great Wind, A Great Calm, A Great Fear" would work as a chorus, but the luscious harmonizing does the trick. One of the most beautiful moments is the seamless transition from the opening track to the first acoustic sounds heard here that play like the breeze on a wind chime.
And what would a new Michael Card recording be without a banjo song? It has becoming one of his most endearing sounds. "The Service of the Sod" is his latest bluegrass-flavored foray. It starts with an excerpt from what sounds like an old sermon, which is the source of the title. The seed is sown, and how it grows is a mystery. The background is the unique parable from Mark.
Card, and co-writer Sarah Hart, show the depth of Christ's identification with us on "You Walk in Lonely Places":
Lord you walked in lonely places Oh you felt our emptiness Lord you walked in lonely places To know the pain of man
The haunting music perfectly conveys the sober mood. Despite the tone, the closing refrain is like a lifeline of hope:
And in my darkest hours I can call upon Your name, oh Lord And You come into the solitude Of what I cannot face alone
"In Memory of Her Love" commemorates an exquisite act of unrealized service. Astonishingly, Jesus said of the woman who unwittingly anointed him for burial, "Truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Mark 14:9 ESV). The song is as beautiful as the act that inspired it.
You won't find a hit song here, or a potential classic along the lines of Card's early work ("El Shaddai" & "Immanuel"), but I like this better. It is a mature offering with finely textured music and depth of feeling and insight. Who else but the cerebral Card would title a song "The Paradigm"?
Sadly, this will not get the same attention as the trendy music on Christian radio, but it deserves to be heard just as much if not more because it is so substantive. This is on par with Card's best work. It's a superb companion to his commentary, which is not only a lot of fun; it is filled with great insights, just like this recording. As I listened, I could not help thinking about Card's commentary, which informs these songs.
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